Protecting the Victims of Domestic Violence – Rachel Condon

Rate of Abuse

Statistically, according to Women’s Aid, Ireland has the second highest number of women avoiding places or situations for fear of being assaulted out of all EU countries.

In a 2014 study entitled “Violence Against Women: An EU-Wide Survey” by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency, it was reported that 14% of women in Ireland have experienced physical violence by a partner. 6% of Irish women have experienced sexual violence by a current or former partner and 31% of women have experienced psychological violence by a partner. 12% of Irish respondents had experienced stalking (including cyber stalking) while 41% of Irish women know someone in their circle of family or friends who have experienced intimate partner violence.

The EU Campaign Against Domestic Violence, 2000 reported that 25% of all violent crimes reported worldwide involve a man assaulting his wife or partner. At least one in three women worldwide (approximately one billion) have been beaten, coerced into sex, or had been otherwise abused in their lifetime.

In Ireland, 209 women have died as a result of domestic violence since 1996 with 63% killed in their own homes. Of the 209 women killed, 87% of them were murdered by somebody they knew such as a spouse, partner, brother, son, neighbour or acquaintance. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer domestic violence with one in seven women being abused in comparison to one in seventeen men.

Reporting Abuse

Women’s Aid has reported that on average a woman will be assaulted by her partner or ex-partner 35 times before she will report it to the police. Those who do take the step to report the abuse face obstacles in the courts with judges and solicitors minimising the perpetrator’s accountability.

The Domestic Violence Death Review Team in Australia drew up a report in 2010 which found that judicial staff often used minimalising language such as ‘volatile relationship’ or ‘stormy relationship’ to describe cases where there was a history of domestic abuse. By way of example, the report referred to the case of a man who set his girlfriend on fire as being in a state of “jealous anger”, to explain his violent behaviour.

While victims of domestic violence may be reluctant to report abuse, whether out of fear of further harm or because of a fear that they won’t be believed, such reporting is crucial. It is also important to seek medical help as well as assistance from An Garda Síochána. Even if a victim has no intention of prosecuting their abuser, taking these actions is vital so if they do ever wish to proceed with charges there is logged evidence of their abuse which can be used in their defence. There are also a variety of different orders one can make against an abusive partner in the District Court such as a barring order which requires the violent person to leave the family home and prevents them from behaving violently or threateningly towards the victim or a safety order which prohibits the abuser from further violence or threats of violence. The Circuit Court can extend a safety order for an unlimited duration if necessary.

The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit primarily investigates domestic/ sexual violence cases and they liaise with the relevant State bodies, Government departments and voluntary groups. The interviewing process attached to a domestic violence investigation can be found at www.garda.ie/domestic/violence. For sexual assaults, treatment is available at six sexual violence units around the country. Listed below are the locations and contact numbers for the different units. All listed units are open 365 days a year:

Cork: located in the South Infirmary, Victoria University Hospital. Services can be accessed at 021/4926297 and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Donegal: Located in NoWDOC premises, Old Town, Letterkenny. Services can be accessed at 0870681964 or via 0749104436 from 8am until 8pm, 7 days a week. For out of hours services, please contact Letterkenny General Hospital Emergency Department on 0749125888 ext. 3595.

Dublin: Located in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin 1. Services can be accessed at 01 8171736 Monday to Friday from 8am until 4pm. For out of hours services, contact the Rotunda Hospital on 018171700 and ask for SATU.

Galway: Located in a dedicated building near Galway racecourse. Services can be accessed at 091765751 or 0876338118, Monday to Friday from 8am until 4pm. For out of hours services, contact your local Garda station.

Mullingar: Located in Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar. Services can be accessed at 0449394239 or 086 0409952, Monday to Friday from 8am until 5.30pm. For out of hours services or weekends contact your local Garda Station or call nursing administration via the hospital switchboard on 044 93 40221.

Midwest: Located in Mid Western Regional Hospital Limerick. Services can be accessed from Monday to Friday, 6pm until 8am Saturdays, Sundays & Bank Holidays 24 hours. Contact SHANNONDOC on 1850 212 999. During office hours contact Galway or Cork SATU.

Waterford: Located in Waterford Regional Hospital. Services can be accessed on 051 842157 or out of hours contact the nurse on call via the hospital switchboard on 051 848000.

Victims of sexual violence will be asked to consent to a Forensic Clinical Examination as soon as possible once a complaint has been made and Gardaí will log this evidence to be used in court.

Abolishing Rape Myths

It is critical that as a society, Ireland understands that victims are less likely to report abuse if there is a prevalent “victim-blaming” attitude. This occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them. This leaves little faith in legal systems for victims of heinous crimes as those implementing the law, who we rely on to bring justice to these people, can’t address violence against women/men without perpetuating victim blaming myths. Questions such as “what were you wearing?’, “had you consumed alcohol?” or “how did you get yourself into that position?” strengthens what the abuser has been saying all along; that it is the victim’s fault they have been abused, that had they dressed or behaved in a certain way then they wouldn’t have suffered at the hands of their victimiser. This demeaning attitude towards victims of violence makes it difficult for them to seek help while removing any responsibility from the abuser.

As a society we choose to blame the victim because we want to distance ourselves from the unpleasant occurrence that has taken place giving us a false sense of security that this could never happen to us when in reality this is not the case. The tendency to blame survivors branches out into different elements; mainly, many people would say they would immediately leave after the first episode of domestic violence or they would certainly report a violent assault but for people who have experienced this, such a clear escape can be blocked by the primary aggressor. Secondly, the victim themselves is likely to place the blame on themselves and have this reiterated by their abuser ensuring that they feel the abuse is their fault and could have been avoided therefore making it unlikely for them to seek help. Until societal attitudes change towards victims and we realise the abuser needs to take responsibility it is unlikely we will progress in helping victims of violence.

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